Two centers make one in art and by metaphor, in politics

Picture the confusion in a football game where instead of one ball there are two. Even if the players were aware of the rules, the public would not know what to expect until some time into the game and only by paying close attention to how it unraveled in its course. But in the end, they might learn a different way of looking at reality, one unconstrained from the standard rules imposed on us. It is no wonder, then, that as an artist constantly striving toward this objective, Uri Tzaig actually set up such a football game between two local teams in the town of Lod, in his native Israel, and videotaped the game to make his work «Universal Game» which was presented at the Documenta of Kassel in 1996. «I am less interested in images in themselves and more in building situations in space and time,» says Tzaig, who visited Athens on the occasion of his one-man show at the Unlimited Gallery, an exhibition that runs simultaneously with his show at the Parisian Art:Concept gallery. Possibly because of his background in studying theater direction, set design and playwriting, Tzaig is intrigued by process and performance. Much of his work consists of documentations in video or photography of a situation which evolves freely out of a set of unconventional rules to chart social interaction and power structures, but more importantly, to guide our understanding of the world away from the established order. It is toward this effect that Tzaig repeatedly uses the motif of the double; two balls instead of one, an image of twins instead of a woman or a man (in his «Twins Fountain»), images that show duplicates rather than opposites and confound our notion of difference and our habit of typecasting. «Mirroring, reflections and the idea of twins shifts our focus from one thing, from one center,» says Tzaig. «Black and White,» a video installation at the current show and in fact one of his few works that are not based on a performance, is again structured against the idea of a single center. Videotaped images of a snowy landscape are projected on the various sides of a revolving structure. The landscape is filmed vertically to create an almost vertiginous effect while the projector turns around in a horizontal axis. «Scanning with the camera creates the sense that there is no center, no hierarchy, just as in the case of using two balls,» says Tzaig. The feeling that there is no center is what being in the midst of the desert must be like, which may be why Tzaig has also shot «FIN FIN,» a video filmed close to the Dead Sea made for Israeli TV. Seen against the fact that Tzaig is an Israeli artist living in the midst of a prolonged situation of political tension, much of his art has been seen as harboring a political message. The recurring idea of creating two out of one possibly suggests an implicit mood of reconciliation between the the Israelis and the Palestinians. Tzaig is indeed observant of political difference; in «Universal Square» he intentionally staged the game in a city inhabited both by Jews and Arabs, while in «Allah Akbar» he uses the name of a sacred Muslim prayer for the title and uses its incantation as an acoustic background. «I felt that being political is not necessarily pointing to the subject explicitly but referring to it more philosphically. Through duality I am refering to the Israeli and Palestinian situation but also to broader realities around the world,» says Tzaig. Just like in the soccer game where Tzaig creates one situation out of two centers, in politics an analogy would amount to two nations cohabiting peacefully in a single state. In reality this may be hardly feasible, but in art it almost seems momentarily possible. The question remains, however, as to whether, in the end, much of contemporary art reduces the urgency and intricacy of a political situation to a vague need for mutual understanding of cultural difference. Tzaig’s work prompts the viewer to think critically about such issues but also engages him to dream beyond reality. This double quality of his work accounts for much of its strength.